Imprisoned: part four
Biencourt placed his cup and saucer on the floor. Honoré heard his footsteps on the carpet cross behind the armchair. Broughton’s gaze, he noticed, followed Biencourt. To see what Biencourt was about, Honoré shifted elbows onto knees, the woolen cloth of his coat making a rustling noise. He saw that Biencourt stared at the street, palms flat on a narrow table, eyes too abstracted to be studying the view.
But awakened, he took up a small, unframed picture. “Honoré, you may have an opinion of this. This is the art they make in Paris now. I find it cheerful to look at on such grey days. Though it is somewhat absurd. Why, I wonder, so many dabs of purple and yellow in the sky?”
The little canvas was the size of a tea tray, its subject simple—a hillside that swam in wildflowers, a woman at its summit, her face pensive. The sky and her summer dress, the flowers and the racing clouds, all these things appeared to dance, as the petals of a flower might do in life…taken by a gust of wind, glanced upon by a ray of sun. Honoré found himself entranced by the woman, her melancholy face seeming to flicker with incipient expression. In a moment, the clouds would part…she would smile. Yet her eyes were black dots, her mouth a red line, the shadows below her cheekbones dashes of blue.
He had lost the thread of Broughton and Biencourt’s talk. He looked up, alert—a name, he thought, had been mentioned. Biencourt, rather than take his seat, had gone to peer through the other window. Unnoticed by Honoré, Broughton had joined him.
“One finds one’s way,” Broughton was saying. “We hope for progress…or I should perhaps say, we hope to keep pace with progress. We assume the risk, for we believe that by our own hands, we are better served. Should we have begun with an overly sanguine view, we might only find ourselves forced to backtrack. And the bridge may no longer be there, after all.”
His glance implied rebuke, some way in which Honoré had failed.
He knew he had not paid attention.
“As we speak of clouds and gloom,” Biencourt said, “I am reminded. I have more to offer my guests. I will return.”
They heard him uneven and slow on the stairs.
Broughton came back to the divan. “Suppose, Gremot, that I have learned a thing. I may have got it right. Or I may not. Rumors, as you know, can in the retelling become greatly distorted. Suppose that I or any man mention in conversation a thing material to your interests…there is no need to start or give outward sign. It cannot profit you to do so. I said to you that in this house you might safely put a question to me, should you have one.”
It was an embarrassment Broughton understood him so well. Honoré did not understand Broughton. But he needed the answer to this question too desperately to offer evasion. “I cannot wish evil. If Émile Baum is alive…”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)